Old fashioned independent films, ones that are content just to observe realistic people as they navigate the world, well…they’re becoming rarer and rarer. In part, the demands of the box office limit these endeavors, but it only takes one filmmaker to remind you how vital they can be. This week, Mickey and the Bear opened, with a powerful debut feature writing and directorial outing by Annabelle Attanasio. Her keenly realized flick has a pair of tremendous performances at the forefront, for sure, but her matured storytelling is a rock as well. Together, the three make this an indie that deserves all of the acclaim it’s been receiving all year long.
This movie is a character study, centered on two damaged individuals, who also happen to be father and daughter. Taking place in the small Montana town of Anaconda, we meet the strong willed teenager Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone) as she’s realizing she needs to bail her father Hank Peck (James Badge Dale) out of prison again. She loves him deeply, but the Iraq war veteran is also incredibly damaged, as well as an addict. Both are scarred by the loss of her mother/his wife, though it’s a forbidden topic of conversation. Hank seems content to pop pills, play video games, and only sometimes have violent outbursts. Mickey, however, is desperate for her own identity, as well as some manner of independence. Anaconda is not a place she wants to spend her whole life, even if most in town never even consider leaving. When a chance at going away to college presents itself, she begins to plan her escape, all while the pain of potentially leaving Hank behind leaves her at wit’s end. The aforementioned Attanasio writes and directs, with music by Angel Deradoorian and Brian McOmber, as well as cinematography by Conor Murphy. Supporting players here include Calvin Demba, Rebecca Henderson, and Ben Rosenfield.
James Badge Dale and Camila Morrone are achingly real here. The film’s script gives them plenty to do, and both ace their difficult roles. Dale has the showier part, though the heart and soul of tale being told belongs to Morrone. The former does an excellent job of gaining your sympathy, even at his worst moments. Dale’s Hank is a truly complex character, as opposed to the one note asshole that he could have been portrayed as. As for the latter, this is a real breakthrough performance, immediately making her one to watch. Morrone makes Mickey someone with strong motivations, but also a person with complications to those motives. It’s a tightrope, but she walks it expertly.
Mickey and the Bear only missteps when it seeks to overly dramatize the story. Writer/director Annabelle Attanasio almost always avoids the cliches here, but when she leads in and embraces something less realistic, the work suffers a bit. Mostly, this only happens in the third act, when extra conflict is necessary. Up until that point, it’s almost documentary-like in its realism. These small missteps not only hurt that aspect, but it messes with the pacing as well. At only 88 minutes, this should fly by, and until the final bit, it does.
Now in theaters, Mickey and the Bear is a quality indie flick. If you’ve been looking for a small scale character study to dive into, this is definitely one to consider. The movie has intimate ambitions, helping to ground the tale even more so in the real world. The result is two great performances, as well as the debut of a filmmaker worth looking out for. Give this one a look and you’ll almost certainly be moved by what you find…
Be sure to check out Mickey and the Bear, in theaters now!